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y mail - 3/28/01

March 27, 2001

Downtown arts district moves closer to reality



An arts and entertainment district for downtown Hagerstown may move from the planning stage to reality faster than anyone imagined, thanks to action this week by the Maryland General Assembly. Local officials now must get busy putting together a plan and finding some matching funds.

The matching funds will be needed from city and county governments provided the $275,000 now earmarked for the project by a House of Delegates committee survives scrutiny by the state senate.

Last September, a committee was formed to decide how to pay for the $10.2 million project, which called for the demolition of the former McBare's Pub, to the south of the theater, to make way for an expanded lobby and theater courtyard. To the north, the plan would convert the Edison Apartments and Henry's Theater into spaces for arts and dance studios.

Since then, there's been a proposal to save the McBare's building and make it part of the theater complex, but no final decision has been made.

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Whatever happens to the final plan, the project could be helped by a bill introduced by Del. Joan Piton, D-Pitkin. Modeled after a law that helped revitalize Providence, R.I., the bill would allow local governments to ask Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development to designate arts districts in the areas.

Once the areas were designated, artists and entertainment businesses within them would get property-tax credits and be exempt from local admission and amusements taxes.

Rhode Island's bill goes much further, providing income and sales tax cuts as well, but Pitkin said the House Ways and Means committee cut those provisions, fearing too much revenue would be lost.

Passage is not assured yet; a lot can happen between now and the session's end. But because the bill provides that only six districts can be created in any one year, local officials must be ready with a plan. It would be a shame to come this far, only to see areas like Baltimore grab all the benefits at the last second.

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